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Preliminary audit report in, history museum remains closed

County hopes to reopen it by end of the month

The History Museum of Hood River County remains closed as the county examines a preliminary audit report on the museum’s finances and how they may have been mishandled.

County Administrator Dave Meriwether reported last week that The History Museum was closed Aug. 9 after the county learned of “administrative and operational anomalies” with the museum’s accounting practices. The museum is currently in the process of applying for a 501(c)(3) federal nonprofit tax designation, and Meriwether said last week that museum funds may have been moved too soon from one account to another “in anticipation of that (nonprofit) formation, which is not yet in place or recognized by the IRS.”

Tigard accounting firm Pauly Rogers and Co arrived at the museum Aug. 15 to examine the museum books. Meriwether said the locks were changed on the museum doors to prevent any museum personnel, board members, or volunteers from gaining access to the building while the audit was being conducted.

“We just didn’t know how many keys were out there,” he explained.

Auditors with Pauly Rogers recently finished their investigation, but the museum doors still remain locked as the county reviews the preliminary report. At Monday night’s meeting of the Hood River County Board of Commissioners, museum board member Mary Ellen Barilotti, who was speaking on her own behalf, not the museum’s, was irked by the closure.

“We’re sort of upset that it had to close,” she said to the commissioners. “We don’t understand the reason why it had to close and considerable problems have arisen as a result of closing the building, not to mention Cemetery Tales. People are calling, there’s no one answering the phones, there’s nothing going on.”

Barilotti also noted that the issues at the museum that were reported “didn’t warrant the closure of the museum.”

The museum is operated by volunteers and board members and is staffed by one county employee, Connie Nice, as museum coordinator. When asked Tuesday morning whether Nice was still being paid while the museum was closed, Meriwether said he didn’t “want to comment on personnel matters.”

As for when the museum might open, Meriwether didn’t give a definite date.

“We hope to have the final (audit) report by the end of the month,” he said. “We hope to have the museum open before then, but I can’t say that for sure.”

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Museumanonymous 11 months, 1 week ago

Isn't that so thoughtful of the county to hire a lawyer (Haskell Davis Dunn), an audit firm (Pauly Rogers and Co), pay to have all the locks changed, and utilize numerous publicly paid county staff to protect us from the big bad museum. Must be some pretty big "anomalies". $1,000,000? No? How about $100,000? No? $10,000 maybe? No? Wait, why are they even doing this? And with public funds?!

Just to be clear, the museum is already a nonprofit; the new account was designed to reduce risk and liability to the county allowing members, donors, and visitors to support the museum via credit card. The account was approved by the county legal team, added as a county vendor so transactions between the new account and existing county account could be made, and was set up to be managed solely by the museum board (put in place by the county commissioners). While the museum coordinator is the one county "employee" at the museum, she did not have access to the account except through the museum board as even further security to the county. The museum coordinator and the museum board were fully cooperative with the county and the auditors, voluntarily handing over all records and in good faith transferring the money to a different county approved account out of the one in question. Their cooperation was rewarded with the closing of the museum, the ransacking of the museum offices, confiscating artifacts, the removal of the gift shop, and the suspension of the museum coordinator. And maybe the reason Meriwether won’t comment on "personnel matters" is that they are in direct violation of several county union procedures for handling the discipline/investigation of public employees!

Keep calling the museum, emailing board members and volunteers, and keep asking questions. The public deserves to hear more than just the one-sided cover-our-ass legal BS the county administrator is spewing at the moment.

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